THE LION KING has spent some months training abroad with his Topeak Ergon racing team. Read about his working relationship with fellow teammate and Austrian powerhouse Alban Lakata.
Who in the Marathon Mountain Biking arena do not know the name Alban “The Albanator” Lakata? The three-time World Marathon World Champion has basically won every major race on the XCM racing scene and I thank my lucky stars to be part of the Topeak Ergon Racing Team alongside this legend. Quite the introduction, but there is one race where the top step is not written down on his palmares (yet), and yes you guessed it, the biggest stage race in the world, in our very own Western Cape, the Absa Cape Epic. He has come close to being second and third before, but it is the one goal we as a team have to work for to remedy!
KING OF THE WORLD!
Alban did not have a great start to the year, these things happen, and simply just wasn’t himself at the Tankwa Trek, Cape Epic and some early European races, but he loves those rainbow stripes! It was rather incredible that he managed to pull things together, it is as if he just knows how to get himself 100% ready for the biggest race of the year at the end of July. Maybe it is the build-up races, maybe it is the summer weather in his hometown Lienz bordering the Dolomites and surrounded by mountains, we do not know. Clearly, he knows and it shows in his medal cupboard with four silver ones next to those three gold beauties! After this year’s Cape Epic, there were lots of talk about the XCM racers not being fast enough with the XCO racers clearly a step ahead. I did not think the Cape Epic was that much faster than previous years, maybe it was more a situation where pretty much all the XCM racers just simply had a dud year. The expectations before the World Championships in Singen this year was that the XCM racers did not stand a chance against the high level of XCO and CX racers entered on a course that clearly also suited them more. So, it was massively satisfactory when the team staff run at me after I crossed the line with the news that Alban won! Even better that all three podium finishers were XCM specialist. Apart from that, a very big and important day for our team, Topeak, Ergon and Canyon.
CROSSING THE ALPS WITH THE CHAMP
After arriving in Mayrhofen, Austria, for the start of the 20th Transalps, I joined the team for a coffee when a rather relaxed Alban informed me that his damaged ribs from a simple crash after Worlds did not heal properly yet and he will start with me as the support team, while Jeremiah will get the chance to show himself racing with Kristian as the team leaders. I was already excited for this year’s Transalps after a more focussed approach compared to last year where my shape was a real bust, with some good training and almost three weeks at altitude. This opportunity to race with a good friend, rollmodel and yes, the dude with the rainbow jersey, was extremely special! Jip, call-up every morning was always pretty loud for us, nice to be that guy next to a recently crowned champion, but the show was one thing, we still had to get to the lake at Riva del Garda on the other side of the Alps. Kristian and Jeremiah had a great race. I think many people were impressed by Jeremiah surviving the pace set by the younger climbers, eventually finishing in third place overall! Respect my brother JB, you did us proud and showed what can be done at the age of 41, not just the speedy legs but more importantly the excitement of living life to the max! Alban and I took a steadier approach, it really worked for me and starting within my limits every day, just got stronger through each stage and through the week. I was extremely happy with my performance, so was the team, never very far from our leaders and placing a happy sixth overall. Alban was a great teammate, with constant motivation without adding pressure, but making sure we enjoy the riding as much as fighting our own small battles for good positions and being close to our leaders. It was a real honour to race with the Austrian. It is a real honour to be part of this great group of people and I could not be a happier man!